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5 'Think' Interviews To Better Understand The Opioid Crisis And Addiction


The number of drug overdose deaths related to opioids is on the rise in Texas.

In 2016, more than 2,800 people died from an overdose, resulting in a 7.4 percent jump from the number of fatalities the previous year, according to the most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The epidemic has been so deadly that it has caused overall life expectancy in the United States to decrease -- from 78.7 in 2015 to 78.6 in 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The addictive drugs have not only cut thousands of lives short, but also have cost the United States more than $1 trillion since 2001, according to a March study, and may add another $500 billion over the next three years.

While the crisis might seem insurmountable to fix, it’s not impossible to understand. Addiction to opioids often begins in the doctor’s office.

Behind the numbers lies an issue with several moving parts. Listen to or download these five episodes of KERA’s Think with host Krys Boyd to learn more.

Portraits of opioid addiction

Time Magazine spent a year documenting the opioid crisis and putting a face to the epidemic. The result was an issue entirely devoted to the work of a single photographer, James Nachtwey. Paul Moakley, deputy director of photography and visual enterprise, talks about what he learned from working along side Nachtwey and interacting with addicts to produce the special March 5 issue.

Stream below or download the podcast.

Imagining a future without opioids

Ted Price, who researches chronic pain at the University of Texas at Dallas, talks about the prospects for non-opioid pain medication. “There’s no question that opioids are effective for acute pain,” Price says, “but the issue that we have right now is that the drugs that we have to treat chronic pain don’t work very well and the drugs that are efficacious are incredibly dangerous.”

Stream below or download the podcast.

Listen to the KERA Think show from January 31, 2018.

How an addict's brain is wired

Regardless of the vice — alcohol, drugs or gambling — addicts have different brains than the average person who abides by their limits. Rita Z. Goldstein, who researches addiction at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, talks about the latest addiction research, which is featured in the September 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.

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Listen to the KERA Think show from Aug. 23, 2017.

Finding hope after heroin

For nearly a decade, Tracey Helton Mitchell lived on the streets of San Francisco addicted to heroin, an opioid drug made from morphine. She talks about how she eventually became a stable mother of three after getting clean – and about how our rehab system can be improved. She’s the author of “The Big Fix: Hope After Heroin."

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Listen to the KERA Think show from July 13, 2017.

The power of pills

This is a primer with Pepper Harper, a counselor with Sante Center for Healing in Argyle, and Dr. Lee Spencer, an addiction psychiatrist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, on how people develop a dependence to prescription drugs and how pain pills and anti-depressants differ from street drugs. The episode followed news that former Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk had struggled with addiction to medication for her back pain.

Stream below or download the podcast.

Listen to the KERA Think show from March 31, 2015.

 For more Think shows, subscribe to the podcast.